When to Write and When to Call It a Day

I’ve been sick too much this year, and thought it worth revisiting one of my favorite articles from 2013 on “when to write and when to call it a day.” Here’s an updated version for you:

During a live coaching call for my Circle, a writer once asked about how to know when to push through and write if you’re not feeling well versus how to know when to focus on regaining your well-being.

In my opinion, the answer depends a bit on the circumstances, so let’s look at some specific scenarios.

1. You’ve just come down with a wicked cold or flu.

Assuming you have a solid, regular habit in place, when you get really sick or you’re just those early stages of wretchedness, it’s okay to take a few days off from writing, knowing that you’ll get back to it as quickly as you can.

When I’m feverish, wiped out, or worse, I know the most important thing I can do for my body is to rest and heal.

I have found myself writing even while sick at times — because I felt truly drawn to work on my piece — but in this case my focus is very much about listening to my body.

This is very much like being an athlete, and knowing whether or if to train when you’re sick or injured, and when to take a day off.

I also trust myself enough deep down, after months of regular writing, to know that I’ll re-establish my habit as soon as I am able, usually within 2 to 3 days. The longer you’re away from your habit, the harder it is to get going again, so it will behoove you to pay attention to starting again quickly, even if you start small, such as in 15 minutes a day.

2. You’re going through a rough patch in your life, you’re generally tired or run down, maybe you’re not sleeping very well, or maybe you’re mildly sick.

On the other hand, if the chips are down and you’re having a rough time in your life, maybe you aren’t sleeping well, or maybe you’re getting better from that wicked cold or flu, I’m inclined to recommend that you simply ease up on your writing time a bit, but still keep writing. When I’ve gone through particularly difficult phases in my personal life, I’ve made a point NOT to stop writing, but to carry on at my “rock bottom minimum” level of writing.

As a writer, it’s worth knowing what that minimal level of involvement is with your work for you — the amount of writing that will keep you engaged and connected to the work. For me, it’s a minimum of 15 minutes of writing a day, even if it’s morning pages just to keep writing flowing, though ideally it’s on my main project. For another writer, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It varies between individuals, but the point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

I gained tremendous confidence and strength from seeing myself commit to and show up for doing the work every day, no matter what.

In concert with easing back to your minimum, when you’re going through a phase like this, make a point to ramp up your self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. But do stay connected to the work.

3. You’re in a bad mood or someone said something terrible to you and your confidence is shaken.

A common refrain among writers — particularly those of us who are more sensitive and easily affected by other people and experiences — is “I’m just not in the right mood to write today.” This can particularly come up if you’ve lost confidence because of something someone said about your writing or if you’ve been hooked by the Comparison Monster (“Everyone else is doing so much better at this than I am!”), or even if you’re just in a crummy mood.

Hear this now: As one of my Circle coaches once said, “There’s a difference between self-care and mood.”

Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here, right now reading this, if writing was easy to do.

As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

Don’t let a bad mood or a rough day become an excuse not to write.

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing, and if anything, I think we need to err on the side of writing more regularly and consistently than not.

As Brian Johnson says (via Jack Canfield), “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” So hang in there, do the work, and make it easier on yourself. (A side note: A weekdays-only practice at 100% works.)

You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised that your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood.

In fact, you may find — as many of our Circle members do — that your mood may well shift when you write anyway, and if even if it doesn’t, you’ll still have demonstrated your commitment to yourself, which is deeply affirming and happiness-building.

(See also my post called “You Can Change Your Life in a Split Second.”)

4. You’re going through a painful period of loss, grief, or personal anguish.

At another end of the spectrum is experiencing an extreme loss — like a death of a loved one. When my grandmother died in 2012, I felt as though I was in another world — approaching the veil of life and death on some level — and I found it very difficult to write fiction in yet an entirely different world. So I choose to take a few days off from “real” writing, though I did do a tiny bit of tinkering with my script one day.

On the other hand, Steven Pressfield recommends writing even during times of “personal anguish” in his excellent post of the same title.

He says, “I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not.”

My experience is that those few brief days of being between worlds while in grief are the only spans of time in which I have felt truly unable to write, and then, just as I’ve said above, I still get back to writing as quickly as possible.

5. You need to refill your creative well.

All this said, I am a firm believer in taking big “put my feet up” days off. I love to pick out a day on my calendar when I can feel the need building up, that I block off “just for me.” I take my son to school, and then proceed to do whatever I feel like doing, which usually involves some combination of a fantastic herbal or decaf beverage, a movie in bed, a nap, maybe a meal at a favorite restaurant. It might also involve going shopping at a beloved and inspiring store, like an art store or museum shop. Whatever it is that feels inspiring and uplifting.

On these days, I fully, completely enjoy my Not Writing time, and I know I’m replenishing and rebuilding to dive back in the next day.

Your Turn

The bottom line, for me, is that each one of us needs to experiment, listen to our own bodies and inner selves, and find what works best for us. And, like I said, given the massive opportunities for resistance, fear, avoidance, procrastination, and self-doubt, my strong recommendation is to find a way to stick to your work as regularly and consistently as possible. What do you think? What works for you? Leave me a note in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

This article was originally published in January 2013 and has now been republished with revisions.

 

The opposite of resistance is insistence

Overcoming resistance to writing requires more effort initially than it does later on, particularly if you build a writing habit and get into the swing of doing it every day without question, like brushing your teeth.

Before that — and sometimes even after you have a writing habit in place — one of your best tools for fighting resistance is insistence.

I suppose it’s a kind of willpower but I think of it more as a blazing piece of magic and determination that tells resistance: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

Insistence means drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I WILL write today!” even if that looks like aiming for your rock bottom minimum of fifteen minutes or 350 words or whatever you’ve identified as your “no matter what”.

Insistence doesn’t have to be a ruthless warrior either. She can also be a gentle goddess, coaxing you to the page, kindly insisting that yes, indeed, you can write today, even just for five minutes. She’s the one that helps you set the timer and get the file open and start typing.

There are days when insisting that I write feels exhausting, like one more thing to do on my overly full plate. But there’s a deeper part of me that feels relieved and satisfied when I show up and do it.

Release the joy

I believe that writing is a calling. Something we can’t not do. It doesn’t come easy for all writers. For many of us, resistance is so overpowering that we begin to believe perhaps we just don’t care enough about writing to actually do it.

Here’s the thing. Where there is resistance, there also is passion, secret joy, energy, enthusiasm, and delight just waiting to burst out, to be freed from its prison.

You are the one with the power to release it.

Gently insisting that you will write today, even just a little bit, begins to break down the dam that holds back all that joy.

Is writing always joyful?

Will you feel joyful while you write?

Maybe not.

Perhaps it’s the pessimistic side of me but I often feel more like a terrified deep sea diver putting on her scuba gear when I sit down at my desk to write. And while I’m underwater I focus on doing the work, as if the sharks and other unseen terrors might be show up at any time. And it’s hard work too, extracting ores and hauling buried treasures back to the surface. It’s only once I’ve returned to the surface, pulled off my gear, and taken a breath of fresh air that the relief and joy erupts through me.

I’m okay with that. But sometimes, I need a little insistence to help me get past the fear of facing all that hard work. :)

 

What about you? How does insistence help you show up and do the work?

 

Live by desire, not mood

I read a wonderful post today by Jennifer Louden called, “Mood vs. Desire.”

She eloquently makes a case that we must “Learn the difference between mood and desire” if we want to feel more alive and fulfilled.

She states:

“You are always in a mood…. if you are in a light hearted mood, life seems easier. Tired or feeling put upon, you see your choices in a whole different light…. Desire, on the other hand, is life force running underneath everything. The Divine at play. A reflection of your deepest values. Desire is the most current flavor of your calling.

“We get mood and desire confused…. Mood is influenced by what you ate for breakfast, how your morning meeting went, if your partner and you are getting along, how you slept. We say ‘I’m not in the mood’ thinking that means we have no desire. No.  Mood covers desire. Desire runs under mood, sometimes deep under, but it is always there.”

This is a lesson that many creatives and sensitives (and Enneagram Fours in particular) are confronted with regularly.

So many of us want to wait to be in the right mood to create, write, work, or even to complete household chores.

In the case of writing, what we’re finding in my Writer’s Circle is that when we write on a daily basis, whether we’re “in the mood” or not, we’re much happier on the other side of it than when we don’t.

It’s all too easy to think that we’re too tired, too stressed, or too unhappy to reach for what we deeply want, but when we do it anyway, we answer our soul’s calling and say “Yes” to life.

Ignoring that deeper calling and acting only on mood is one of the biggest mistakes we can make, yet so easy to fall into. It requires will, discipline, and strength to make the hard choices, do the work, and prioritize our deepest desires. But it’s so worth it.

Your turn

Tell me what you think in the comments. You know I love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> September 27th. Register by September 27th for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts October 1st). For serious writers and for writers who want to get serious about their writing. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

~> October 4th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group. SOLD OUT. http://LifePurposeBreakthrough.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Working on my script, Progeny, with screenwriter Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.* There’s always more.

~> Sacred writing time. My schedule is in flux right now but I’m writing regularly nonetheless.

~> Reading: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows with my son. We’re also watching Merlin, which he loves.

 

* Affiliate link

 

 

 

 

Why we don’t do the work

Last week I wrote a post called, “Stop buying stuff and do the work.” It resonated for more than a few people — and I had promised to write more about WHY we don’t do the work.

So why don’t we do the work?

First, an example.

For years (literally) I said I wanted to write, but I managed instead to fill my plate with training after training after training, and volunteer job after volunteer job. I studied with Coach For Life and Sonia Choquette, pursuing certifications with them. I started and ran organizations like the Sensitive Professionals Network, Six Sensory San Francisco, and a Coach For Life graduates forum, not to mention working as a youth leader with a youth group.

I read (and bought) countless books on coaching, intuitive development, angels, high sensitivity and so much more. Some of them I hardly even opened.

Then I spent more time, energy, and money on learning business skills and developing my message with several high business coaches, and completing hand analysis training.

And while I don’t regret what I was doing — after all, I have tremendously deepened my self-knowledge, grown as a person, learned a ton, and met wonderful people along the way, I was keeping myself so busy that I wasn’t pursuing my true dream of writing.

Throughout that time (and for years before it), I had a nagging feeling that I was “waiting for my life to start” and yet I wasn’t taking action to change anything. Instead I was filling my time doing all those other wonderful things.

And they were wonderful — but in hindsight, it was still resistance.

What’s that about?

It’s all too easy to think we are too busy, that we don’t have enough time. Or that we just need to get better organized. Or just get this one more thing done first.

And the thing is, we feel good that we are contributing great things to the world and our community and that we are learning so much.

And we are. We do.

ALL of these things are true.

We are not bad people after all, we have good intentions and we are interested in so many things.

But why does the one true dream always fall to the bottom of the pile? Why do we make choices that keep us from our dreams?

This is not a new answer

In my case — and I suspect it is true for many people if not most — it’s fear.

This is why we buy stuff we don’t need, keep ourselves too busy to think or connect inward to our deeper selves, procrastinate, spin in circles, get apathetic, and all those other things that add up to resistance.

Because it is scary.

Pursuing your truest, deepest dream is the most frightening thing imaginable — you might not even consciously recognize that you are afraid.

It’s your own hero’s journey

Pursuing your true dream — your art, writing, business, or passion — requires massive amounts of courage. It’s your own personal hero’s journey. Every single day you have to be willing to face down your personal demons, fight the resistance, and forge ahead.

It’s no wonder we want to avoid it, right? And we are so clever that we don’t even know that’s what we’re doing.

Time to clear the decks and answer the call to adventure. It’s waiting for you.

Your turn

I love to hear what you think. Post your note on my blog. Can’t wait to hear from you.

And if your dream is writing — registration closes tomorrow for the next session of my Writer’s Circle. Join us.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> August 2nd. Register by August 2 for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts August 6th). For serious writers and for writers who want to get serious about their writing. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

~> September 6th. Last day to register for the next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group happening on October 4th. These groups always sell out (only 4 spots) so if you want to discover your life purpose through the remarkably accurate tool of hand analysis, sign up here now: http://LifePurposeBreakthrough.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Mentoring with screenwriter Chris Soth and participating in ScreenwritingU’s Pro Rewrite class after finishing the ProSeries.* (They’re offering their free rewrite* class this month on August 4, which is great — though make sure you have plenty of water — it’s a looooong class.)

~> September 18 to 22nd. Heading to Hollywood for a ScreenwritingU* event to meet with producers and agents then staying on for the InkTip Pitch Summit. (This is getting way too close!)

~> Sacred writing time. Early mornings and Fridays.

~> Finished Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix! We’ve started reading the next one: Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. I loved (500) Days of Summer, and finally saw The Day the Earth Stood Still (liked it) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (fabulous).

 

* Affiliate link

Stop buying stuff and do the work

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making (and I do it myself) is buying and investing in various products, books, and services but never actually doing the work.

It’s tempting to think that if we just invest in X then we’ll automatically have Y.

It’s just like a gym membership — the only way to lose weight or get in shape is to actually go and workout. You can’t just pay for it, you have to use it.

Say and pray doesn’t fly

Even programs that are well designed to give you a regular, daily opportunity to participate, like my Writer’s Circle, it doesn’t pay off to sign up and just “hope it works.” You actually have to do the work, make the hard choices, and face the difficult obstacles to get the results you want.

In our instant gratification society, we want to believe that there’s a single cure-all or an over-night remedy that will just fix everything while we sleep.

Doesn’t work like that, unfortunately.

And when we combine it with a culture where most of us feel broken and like we need to be cured, well, it’s not too hard to see we’ve got a problem.

Ways we do this

Here are some examples of the ways we do this:

  • Enrolling in a gym but not using it.
  • Buying books but not reading them.
  • Going to healers but not doing the exercises or integration work they assign us.
  • Taking classes but not implementing what we learn.
  • Signing up for programs but not participating in them.

I’m guilty of all of these things. How about we make a pact right now to stop the madness?

The sad thing is that so many people are spending so much money on programs and training (I see it in the coaching world in particular, but it’s also true in writing, business, etc.) but never taking the time to integrate or even implement what they’ve learned. And sometimes before one class is over they’re already signed up for another one. Many people are in thousands and thousands of dollars in debt as a result.

Solutions

Here are a few ideas about how we can change this up:

  • Ask yourself, “Is this truly important to me?” If the answer is yes, figure out how to make it happen. Your actions demonstrate your priorities. Period. Figure out a way to be all in. If the answer is no, let it go and move on.
  • Make space for it: Something I learned from Miriam is to block off time in my schedule for learning. I love it.
  • Look at the stockpiled “stuff” you’ve already invested in and make a clear decision about what you sincerely want to use. Let the rest go.
  • Question whether or not you are truly ready to learn anything new right now. Consider your energy, bandwidth, and other commitments. Consider not signing up for or purchasing anything new unless it’s 100% in alignment with your highest priorities.
  • If you don’t have the bandwidth but you want to take something on, be clear on what you’ll give up to make it happen. One of the biggest mistakes I see writers making, for example, is hoping they’ll have time to write instead of creating time for it. I see this with entrepreneurs, artists, and sensitives as well.

Bottom line

We’ve got to stop torturing ourselves by taking on more than we can handle. In a way, doing that is a form of resistance. Look to see what sacred priority is being forced to the bottom of the pile because of the choices you’re making. Is that okay with you?

Your turn

What do you think? I love to hear from you on my blog. 

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> August 2nd. Register by August 2 for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts August 6th). For serious writers and for writers who want to get serious about their writing. http://JustDoTheWriting.com

~> September 6th. Last day to register for the next Life Purpose Breakthrough Group happening on October 4th. These groups always sell out (only 4 spots) so if you want to discover your life purpose through the remarkably accurate tool of hand analysis, sign up here now: http://LifePurposeBreakthrough.com

 

What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Mentoring with screenwriter Chris Soth and participating in ScreenwritingU’s Pro Rewrite class after finishing the ProSeries.* (They’re offering their free rewrite* class this month on August 4, which is great — though make sure you have plenty of water — it’s a looooong class.)

~> September 18 to 22nd. Heading to Hollywood for a ScreenwritingU* event to meet with producers and agents then staying on for the InkTip Pitch Summit.

~> Sacred writing time. Early mornings and Fridays.

~> Almost done with Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix! Saw The Dark Knight Rises on Friday (um, huh?). In the middle of watching (500) Days of Summer (good so far) and recently saw Another Earth (good but depressing). More soon!

 

* Affiliate link

Writers, This Is For You

Whether you’re a novelist, screenwriter, poet, singer-songwriter, playwright, or sci fi maven, you know that getting your butt in the seat and getting your writing done isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

But you also know that if you don’t make your writing happen, you will have left your life’s great work undone.

I’ve been writing professionally for the last 9 years as a coach, and I’m now developing my creative writing abilities as well. I know what it takes to get my writing done, and I’ve created a number of supports, including my new Writer’s Circle, to help you claim your dream of being a writer or get back on the horse as a writer to contend with.

In honor of the official grand opening of my Writer’s Circle, which opens to the public on Tuesday, October 4th after our initial beta test run, I’m publishing a free writing tips series called “How to Stop Making Excuses and Start Writing.”

If you’re ready to get on with your writing, sign up now to receive my Free Tips Series at https://calledtowrite.com/free-writing-tips

The Dreaded ‘D’-Word

Lately I’ve been talking a lot with my very right-brained, creative, multi-passionate, multi-talented clients and cohorts about the “D”-word.

Yeah, that’s right.

Discipline.

It’s enough to make an artist cower in terror behind legions of excuses and doubts or pipe up with even a little disdain.

(I’m an artist, I like to go with the flow / wait for the right mood to strike / follow the energy / be divinely inspired.)

(Not that there’s really anything wrong with that. As an intuitive, an empath, and a Four, I can relate to ALL of that, and I don’t even think it’s “wrong” per se.)

But the thing is, when it comes to getting our creative work out into the world, we often go to sleep on ourselves instead of doing the work to make it happen.

We go to sleep on those deeper-yet-oh-so-slippery truths that tell us what we need to do our best work.

We forget.

We get busy with other things.

We wait for something that never comes.

Is Discipline Really the Enemy?

It never ceases to astonish me how little actual discipline is practiced when it comes to doing the hard work of creating our stuff.

And by hard, I don’t mean Hard. I mean HARD.

The kind of hard that keeps you massively resisting showing up to your writing or your canvas or your practice development, even when you don’t even realize it (we’ll save the other D-word conversation for another day).

You think you’re too busy, you need to make more money first, or your kids need too much of your attention.

Ha!

The truth is, you need to make a commitment to get your Butt In Your Seat and show up to the creative Big Dream you know you are here to fulfill.

There is simply No Other Way it is going to happen.

One thing we do know is that the artists who take regular action to see their work through to completion are the ones who quietly make it happen.

Here’s the funny thing about all of this.

You don’t need to force yourself to make big, giant, rigid commitments of time and energy to make your work happen.

It’s much simpler than that.

Make discipline your friend and ally.

Just commit to taking regular, consistent, and small steps and you’ll move forward in a sustainable way to seeing your dream become a reality.

Inspiration From Seth Godin:

“While you and I have been busy running down dead ends and wasting our effort, scientists have been busy trying to figure out what actually works. And they know how:

  •     Small steps work.
  •     Consistent effort works.
  •     Group support works.

That’s it. Three things. Set a goal, and in small, consistent steps, work to reach it. Get support from your peers when you start flagging. Repeat.

You will change.” 

Your Turn

For me this looks like screenwriting every weekday for a minimum of 15 minutes and reporting in about it to my Writer’s Circle group.

What does it look like for you?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> October 6th. The next session of my Writer’s Circle accountability system starts. Stay tuned for details about how you can participate.

~> November 10th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough ‘Big Vision’ Group. Details. Only 3 spots remaining.

 


~> This Thursday. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey. We’re closing in on completion!

~> FRIDAYS & now morning times too. Sacred writing time. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.